A Chinese Medicine Approach to Migraines 

Migraines are the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Among women, they rank #1.  It is certainly a disabling disease. Those who suffer (over 12% of the global population) understand the harrowing marathon of pain and discomfort that migraines bring. They can spend as long as 5.3% of their lifetime going through an attack.

The symptoms can begin 1-2 days before the actual migraine, with signs of it’s impending arrival. Some of these warning signs including thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, constipation, and neck stiffness–especially on one side.

Some people experience “aura” at the onset of the migraine, which involves visual disturbances such as floaters and bright sparks, auditory hallucinations, difficulty speaking and/or swallowing as well as weakness and numbness.

Blurry picture representing dizziness. Primarily brown, blue, yellow, and red mixing together.

The actual attack can last up to 3 days. They often include nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraine sufferers will retreat to a dark quiet room to weather the storm.

Biomedical explanations for what causes this suffering is limited. It has been described as a complex combination of neurologic, hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions. Genetics may play a role, as many mothers and daughters share the affliction. It is thought that female hormone fluctuations contribute to the higher incidence in women, with one observation being that a drop in estrogen (associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause) can cause blood vessels to constrict. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at both internal and external factors when sorting through causes and types of migraines.

There may be external factors that contribute to migraines as well. Some of these are wind, cold, heat, and damp environmental conditions. These trigger changes in the body affecting qi and blood flow. Internal factors are more lifestyle issues that offset the body’s natural yin yang balance. What we eat, how we sleep, and how we cope with stress all play into that balance. 

Yang energy flows upward in the body and the yang channels intersect in the head, so blockages and deficiencies can cause pain, confusion and dizziness. These blockages and deficiencies often, at their root, involve yin organs of the body including the liver, spleen and kidney. Some of the TCM approaches, depending on the individual pattern of the person being treated, include: Expel Wind-Cold, Anchor Liver Yang (& Nourish Kidney Yin), Sedate Liver Fire, Transform Phlegm (& Support Spleen), Nourish Qi, and/or Move blood.

In treatment, we often try to address the underlying pattern that is contributing to the chronic nature of the disease. Acupuncture can also be very effective at alleviating symptoms or shortening an actual attack. We can work with moving local stagnation of the affected channel, which often involve yang channels of the body such as the Gallbladder, Bladder, and San Jiao channels.

Acupuncturist placing needles into patient's back

While treatment from an acupuncturist will be custom for each person, there are some common acupuncture points for migraines that are useful self-administering acupressure to help with the symptoms. 

GB 20 (wind pool):

Located in the soft depressions past the bony prominence behind the ears. It is the meeting place at the base of the skull and top of the neck.

Taiyang (supreme yang):

Found in the temple area, which in the depression between the outer corner of the eye and the hairline.

UB 2 (drilling bamboo):

This is in the depression in the bone just under the inner corner of the eyebrow.

In addition to a hot compress on the neck, some magnesium supplements and ginger tea (for nausea), someone experiencing a migraine can also gently massage these acupressure points for 30 seconds at a time in repeated intervals to ease some of the tension brought on by this debilitating disease. For added relief, you can even add a little lavender or peppermint essential oil.

Outreached hands pouring drops of essential oil into one palm 


Don’t wait for a migraine to rear its painful head! Get in for regular acupuncture treatments to help reset the organ and channel balance needed for your body to function migraine free!

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